UGA's Farm to Campus Markets

Lara Strydom

Monday, March 1, 2021

Farm to Campus Markets

Reimagining farm to table through UGA’s Farm to Campus

In the midst of COVID-19, UGA students Abraham Lebos and Reese MacMillan are using their skills and knowledge to take on another crisis: food insecurity. 

With funding from the Campus Sustainability Grants program, students are reimagining the farm to table movement through Farm to Campus — the University of Georgia’s first on-campus farmer’s market. The Farm to Campus markets will help connect UGA students and staff with healthy fresh produce grown by local farmers in the Athens area. The first one will take place this Wednesday, March 3, 11AM-3PM on MLC South Lawn.

“Our goal with starting this was to engage not only UGA, but all of Athens with local food systems and to improve general knowledge on campus and off about how great and nutritious local produce can be,” said MacMillan.

Not only will the purchases help support local farmers, but proceeds from the market will go towards the Athens “Food as Real Medicine” program — also known as FARM Rx. This program helps support food-insecure families with diet-related illnesses by providing prescriptions and funding for fresh and organic produce. The program also empowers families to make long-term changes by providing cooking and nutrition classes, so they can learn how to make healthy meals and informed shopping decisions. 

“By providing foods for entire families over the course of half a year and pairing it with education, we are able to address food insecurity at a personal level and make lasting behavioral changes that impact that family for the rest of their life,” said Monica Bledsoe, Athens FARM Rx Coordinator.

According to Feeding America, 11.5% of U.S. households are food-insecure. That number is significantly higher in Athens-Clarke County, with 16.3% to 21.6% (PDF) of ACC households struggling with food insecurity. To put it in perspective, that’s somewhere between 20,320-26,340 individuals, according to Bledsoe. Bledsoe also noted that these numbers have likely intensified since the onset of the pandemic, due to the increase in unemployment.

“We’re in a pandemic, so eating healthier is definitely going to improve your immune system. Eating local foods specifically has positive effects on your immune system because you're eating flora from your local environment,” Lebos said. 

FARM Rx was the very thing that inspired Lebos and MacMillan’s idea for an on-campus farmer’s market. As pre-med students, Lebos and MacMillan first learned about FARM Rx at a UGA American Medical Students Association meeting. Once they realized that the Athens Farmers Market had their own FARM Rx program, Lebos and MacMillan knew they wanted to support it.

“I think that’s kind of our duty as students at UGA. We are living here in people’s city, and I think it’s really important for us to give back as much as we can,” Lebos said. 

They started off by volunteering at the Athens Farmers Market on Saturdays and by creating Farmers Market Friends — a student organization dedicated to advocating for food-health equity and sustainable agriculture. 

“We really want to make this a lasting thing. So that’s where we’re really trying to build good foundations now, so that once we’re gone, our message won’t be forgotten. Because there’s a lot of people who really care about the same things we do,” MacMillan said.

The Farm to Campus Market will be running from March through April, and will be outside on the MLC lawn every Wednesday from 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. Some of the produce people will be able to purchase include: arugula, carrots, kale, lettuce, onions, collard greens, sweet potatoes, pea shoots, chard, and turnips. In addition to produce, there will also be cooking demonstrations from UGA dining services, an interactive art tent and artworks from Lamar Dodd students, and information booths with UGA organizations dedicated to advancing sustainability and eliminating food insecurity in Athens.

At the market, students will be able to use their Paw Points to purchase produce. Venmo and credit cards will also be accepted. Masks are required. 

Students who are interested in volunteering with this initiative can find more information @fmf_uga on Instagram.

“I think the empathy that the students feel towards this program has inspired them to take action, as opposed to inaction. I think the issues that they’re addressing will really prepare them to understand the world that they want to create and make better,” Bledsoe said.